Jun 09

Are we having fun yet?

Six things I wish I were doing but I’m not (in no particular order):

1) Sightseeing
2) Camping
3) Playing sports
4) Reading more books
5) Seeing more plays
6) Hanging out with old friends

You?

Jun 09

Keeping your enemies closer …

At the end of games of May 28, the fourth-place Dodgers had a slim one-game lead in the loss column over last-place San Diego in the National League West. Los Angeles was precariously close to falling in the cellar.

Then, over their next 10 games, whether the Dodgers won or lost, the Padres did the same in nine of them:

May 29: Dodgers and Padres win
May 30: Dodgers and Padres win
May 31: Dodgers and Padres win
June 1: Dodgers and Padres lose
June 2: Dodgers off, Padres lose
June 3: Dodgers lose, Padres win
June 4: Dodgers and Padres win
June 5: Dodgers and Padres win
June 6: Dodgers and Padres lose
June 7: Dodgers and Padres win
June 8: Dodgers and Padres lose

And so today, the fourth-place Dodgers have a slim one-game lead in the loss column over last-place San Diego in the National League West.

* * *

Jun 08

Hanging out on the corner, still waiting to turn


Jim McIsaac/Getty Images (file)Juan Uribe has three doubles and zero home runs in his past 75 at-bats.

There was no mistaking the foreboding, the fear threatening to smother the excitement.

Andre Ethier doubled, and Matt Kemp singled him to third with none out in the seventh inning and the Dodgers trailing Cole Hamels, 1-0 … but the next three batters were Juan Uribe, Marcus Thames and Rod Barajas.

All three are hitters who have produced in the past. But these guys against Hamels at the top of his game, that was going to be an uphill climb, with full packs, in the heat, on a muddy trail, with the sun in their eyes, with aliens firing lasers all around, while having to listen to Wham! – just to even get a sacrifice fly or RBI groundout.

They failed – Uribe spectacularly so, popping up on the first pitch before Thames struck out and Barajas also popped out. And that was followed by wasted baserunners in the eighth and ninth innings of what became a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia.

* * *

This was not a loss that I think twice about.  The Dodgers fell to one of their toughest opponents, on the road and with an offense that, despite its occasional spurts of greatness, is mostly, objectively awful. That’s not news.

If Los Angeles had won, that would have made me think twice about this team.  A victory would have given the Dodgers’ four straight series wins, two of those series on the road against division champions from last year, including one series against the best starting pitching east of Yosemite. An 8-4 record in their last 12 games, against mostly good competition.

In a 162-game season, a road loss to Phillies means next to nothing. Hiroki Kuroda vs. Hamels in Philadelphia is not a game that the Dodgers would have been favored to win even if they were in first place. But at the same time, if something’s going to change my opinion that this team doesn’t have the strength to seriously compete this year, then it’s going to have to be something not just dramatic, but kind of epic. It’s going to have to be more than 7-5 in their past 12, no matter the competition. It’s going to have to be more than a massive comeback from down five runs in the eighth inning against the Reds. There has to be more than a mere flashes of greatness. There has to be something sustained. Even then, there would be doubt, but there’d be more than just blips.

If even the losers get lucky sometimes, then you can’t decide on a moment’s notice that a loser has become a winner.

And believe me, I know the division looks weak. Frankly, the entire National League doesn’t strike me as all that wonderful. I know everyone’s unhappy about tonight’s game, but let’s look at it another way – if Hamels gives up a hit to a guy hitting about .220, the Phillies are poised to drop two of three to a sub-.500, offensively challenged NL West team.

The weaker the league, the easier it is you to compete – but also, the easier it is for other mediocre teams. Nearly every Tom, Dick, Harry, Orson and Mary Beth has a right to think they can win this year. So this isn’t really about worrying that the Dodgers would sneak into the playoffs only to be swept in the first round. This is about worrying that, just like in 2005, there’s a land of opportunity out there, but this covered wagon still doesn’t have the horses even to make it past the Appalachians.

* * *

My theme for this year has been that the Dodgers need everything they can to go right. No margin for error. Despite some of the season’s most exciting moments coming in the past two weeks, it’s still not happening. First base and left field are still nightmares, catcher is close to it, third base is heading in that direction. We’re faced, for example, with the burning (not in a good way) question of whether Aaron Miles is actually better than Uribe.

The young replacements in the bullpen have been practically spectacular, as has Matt Kemp. The starting pitching remains as good as advertised, and Andre Ethier, though his home-run power has gone AWOL, is still productive. The defense has been better than expected.

It’s still not enough. We’re now in the third month of the season. Where’s the extra help going to come from?

Will James Loney, Uribe, Thames (6 for 42 with two walks in 2011), Barajas (7 for his last 49 with a walk and two doubles) and Jerry Sands (3 for his last 35 with two walks) pull out of their slumps?

Will Dee Gordon be a game-changer, at least until Rafael Furcal comes back? Will Furcal come back?

That’s a lot of guys who can help – if they can help. But what I find is that we’re asking mostly the same questions we’ve been asking for some time now. Those questions will not go away overnight.

Years ago, I wrote that if you’re asking “Does this win mean the Dodgers have turned the corner?” then you know the team hasn’t done so. If you have to ask, it hasn’t happened. It means the losing is still too fresh. You’ll know subconsciously your team has turned the corner when it doesn’t occur to you to wonder.

The Dodgers have had a decent road trip, a decent past couple of weeks. But they are still on the other side of the street.

Jun 08

Dodgers draft Jarrin’s grandson

Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. has a summary of the Dodgers’ top 30 picks from this year’s amateur draft.

In addition, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes, the Dodgers picked East Los Angeles College second baseman Stefan Jarrin, grandson of legendary Dodger broadcaster Jaime Jarrin and son of Jorge, with a 40th-round pick.

And then there’s 31st-round pick Mickey McConnell, who as Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com writes, has been hoopin’ it up at St. Mary’s the past four years.

Update: Here’s a link to all of the 2011 Dodger draft picks.

Jun 08

Josh Wilker’s new book on an unlikely subject (well, not for him)

“The Bad News Bears” is my favorite baseball movie. “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” is … not.

Nevertheless, my interest in the sequel has shot through the roof thanks to the fact that Cardboard Gods author Josh Wilker has a new book out about it: “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (Deep Focus).” From the product description at Amazon:

In 1977, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training had a moment in the sun. A glowing junk sculpture of American genres—sports flick, coming-of-age story, family melodrama, after-school special, road narrative—the film cashed in on the previous year’s success of its predecessor, The Bad News Bears. Arguing against the sequel’s dismissal as a cultural afterthought, Josh Wilker lovingly rescues from the oblivion of cinema history a quintessential expression of American resilience and joy.

Rushed into theaters by Paramount when the beleaguered film industry was suffering from “acute sequelitis,” the (undeniably flawed) movie miraculously transcended its limitations to become a gathering point for heroic imagery drawn from American mythology. Considered in context, the film’s unreasonable optimism, rooted in its characters’ sincere desire to keep playing, is a powerful response to the political, economic, and social stresses of the late 1970s.

To Wilker’s surprise, despite repeated viewings, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training continues to move him. Its huge heart makes it not only the ultimate fantasy of the baseball-obsessed American boy, but a memorable iteration of that barbed vision of pure sunshine itself, the American dream.

For an example of what Wilker can do with this subject, just take a read of this piece at his website on Rudi Stein. And while you’re there, make sure you don’t miss the Chico’s Bears with Charlie’s Angels.

Jun 07

Be wary, be excited, be both


Howard Smith/US PresswireRubby De La Rosa was oh-so-wild but managed to hold the Phillies to 1-for-8 hitting with runners in scoring position.

Matt Slocum/APDee Gordon forces Chase Utley out at second base.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com captures the end-of-game reaction to the debuts of Dee Gordon and Rubby De La Rosa, coming at the end of a 6-2 Dodger victory over a surprisingly inept Phillies team.

There were other surprises – the way that Gordon got hits in his first three at-bats, the way that De La Rosa recovered from a nervewracking start that seemed destined to send him or us to an asylum by retiring his final six batters.

But for those who fear change, there was the comforting sight of Matt Kemp knocking a double and then a home run, tying him for the league lead in that category.

One look at Jerry Sands, who went 0 for 4 to fall to 3 for 35 since his May 24 grand slam in Houston, reminds us that growing pains are practically inevitable, no matter how hot your start. But why do we love new, young players so much?  Because who can resist the possibility that the glimpse of greatness we see might grow?

Jun 07

Rubby, Dee, meet Ruby Dee


APRuby Dee on stage with Sidney Poitier on March 26, 1959 during the Broadway run of “A Raisin in the Sun”

In honor of the simultaneous first major-league starts of Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon, here’s a portion of “A Raisin in the Sun” with Ruby Dee.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has a great chart of how pitchers have done making their first major-league starts with the Dodgers in the past 10 years.

* * *

Here are not one but two updates on 2011 No. 1 draft choice Chris Reed from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Jun 07

Third pick: catcher Pratt Maynard

North Carolina State catcher Pratt Maynard is the Dodgers’ third-round pick in the draft. The 6-footer has a .414 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage in 2011. He also has pitched in the past, but did not do so for North Carolina State this year.

Here’s a profile on Maynard from Caulton Tudor of (Charlotte) Newsobserver.com:

When Pratt Maynard left South Granville High in 2008 to join N.C. State’s baseball team, he had never played a game as a catcher.

That changed fast.

Entering what might be the final game of his college career today, Maynard could be a catcher for many years to come. ….

… College programs have started creating catchers as much as trying to find them in recruiting.

“It’s really changed,” Avent said. “Pratt is the first guy we’ve tried it with, but a lot of programs have been doing it for years. Catcher is such an important position that you almost have to look at all possibilities.

“We were planning do it with Russell Martin [then a junior college infielder in 2002] and converting him, but the Los Angeles Dodgers had the same idea.”

Originally a pitcher-third baseman, Maynard made a smooth adjustment to the demanding catching tasks. And as a left-handed batter with power, he emerged as one of the best in the nation. …

That’ll be it for round-by-round draft updates for the time being. We’ll catch up on the Dodger draft later today, but in the meantime, you can track selections here.

Jun 07

Dodgers select third baseman Santana in second round of draft

The Dodgers selected 6-foot-4, 200-pound third baseman Alex Santana from Mariner HS in Florida in the second round of the MLB amateur draft. He is the son of former major-league infielder Rafael Santana, who hit 13 career home runs but listed at 6-1, 165.

Here’s a profile of the new draftee from Annabelle Tometich of the Fort Myers (Fla.) News Press:

Speaking on a static-riddled cellphone from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, fresh from a workout with the Seattle Mariners and on his way to another workout with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mariner High senior Alex Santana found a few minutes for an interview.

The Triton baseball player knows a thing or two about timing.

After what Santana called a so-so high school season (he only hit a team-best .402 with four home runs and 29 RBI), the 6-foot-4, 200-pound third baseman launched a grand slam to dig his team out of a three-run deficit at the Florida Athletic Coaches Association’s All-Star Baseball Classic championship game in Sebring last weekend.

The four-run shot, which glanced off the roof of a building behind left-center field, capped off Santana’s 3-for-4 performance the day before. He was named the Classic’s MVP.

“I’m not the guy who’s going to hit a ton of home runs, but when I connect I’d say they go a ways,” Santana said.

“I could see it on some of the scouts’ faces. It further proved my point, that I can perform with the best in the nation.”

He hopes major league teams agree. …

Santana would reportedly play at Florida Atlantic if he doesn’t sign with the Dodgers.

Santana has also pitched, as this Perfect Game profile notes:

Excellent athletic build, loose and strong. 6.97 runner, easy defensive actions, very good arm strength, throws carry, soft hands. Tall stance, easy low effort swing, very good extension, drives through the ball, good leverage at contact, can hit it hard to the opposite field, could be more aggressive. Also pitched, may have higher ceiling as RHP. Steady 88-89 mph fastball, have seen 91 mph in the past, smooth and easy arm action, good run/sink on fastball, repeats delivery very well, curveball flashed hard spin and bite, very good depth. Must be followed both ways. Good student, signed with Florida Atlantic.

Jun 06

Dodger momentum stalls against Lee, Phillies


Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesGosh, looks easy enough to hit from here …

Outside of seeing Dee Gordon fly from first base to third as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning tonight, there weren’t a lot of thrills for the Dodgers tonight in Philadelphia.

Los Angeles had nine hits – all singles – but were shut out until the ninth inning of a 3-1 loss to Cliff Lee and the Phillies.

Lee allowed game-opening singles to Jamey Carroll (3 for 4) and Aaron Miles (2 for 4), but as soon as Marcus Thames hit into a double play, Lee had the Dodgers under his thumb. He struck out 10 over seven innings before turning the game to his bullpen with a 2-0 lead, thanks to what otherwise would be a forgivable moment of weakness in the third inning by Ted Lilly (six innings, seven baserunners, four strikeouts).

Mike MacDougal gave up a third run in the bottom of the eighth, making the Dodgers’ attempt at a rally that much more difficult in the ninth. Juan Uribe (2 for 4) and James Loney singled, bringing up pinch-hitter Andre Ethier as the tying run, but Ethier grounded into a force play (scoring Gordon in his first major-league game), and then Rod Barajas and pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro whiffed.

Jun 06

Dodgers choose Stanford lefty Reed with No. 1 pick

The Dodgers have gone to my alma mater for their first pick in the 2011 amateur draft, taking 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher Chris Reed from Stanford. Reports say that Reed was something of an unknown quantity entering the year — a reliever who will get a look as a starter, but might end up staying in the bullpen. It’s a surprising enough selection that it definitely asks you to put your faith in Dodger assistant general manager Logan White (or at least understand the financial constraints he’s probably working under).

Reed has 48 strikeouts against 54 baserunners in 49 2/3 innings this season for Stanford, which advanced to the Super Regional round of the NCAA baseball tournament this past weekend. Here’s the ESPN.com scouting report:

The genius of college coaches: Chris Reed, a 6-foot-4 left-hander who sits 92-94 as a reliever with two off-speed pitches that will at least flash above-average, has made exactly one start this year for Stanford, instead working out of the pen where he’s been successful but wasted.

Reed adds a sharp, short slider in the 82-84 mph range to that fastball and will show a very hard-fading changeup in the upper 70s, throwing strikes with all three pitches but not yet showing the fastball command he’ll need to start in the big leagues. He comes from a slot just under three-quarters and repeats his delivery well enough to start, although he could stay upright longer and get more downhill plane on the fastball.

Many scouts like Reed as a potential starter, and we know he can pitch in the bullpen if that doesn’t work out, but I like his chances to end up a No. 2 or 3 starter once he’s stretched out.

Reed was born in London but went to Cleveland HS in the San Fernando Valley.

Jun 06

Dee-Day: Whirlwind of roster changes ends with Gordon callup


Norm Hall/Getty ImagesUnderneath that helmet is newest Dodger major-leaguer Dee Gordon.

Jerry Sands getting an early promotion to the bigs didn’t surprise me much. Nor did Rubby De La Rosa.

But Dee Gordon getting the call — now that’s a commitment to youth.

With Rafael Furcal once again relegated to the disabled list for weeks, the Dodgers have called up the 23-year-old Gordon from Albuquerque, where he had a .361 on-base percentage and 22 steals in 25 attempts, but also only 14 walks and nine extra-base hits (.370 slugging) in 50 games. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the news story.)

Gordon has also had many questions about his fielding, particularly his ability to make the ordinary play (as opposed to the extraordinary one). On the bright side, his surge of errors in April has slowed considerably.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that while everyone has always raved about Gordon’s blinding speed, that .880 stolen-base percentage is a new bright spot. No one’s expecting power from Gordon, so if he can just get on base and stay out of his own way defensively, he could be a thrill to watch.

Gordon is not in tonight’s starting lineup, but unlike with someone such as Ivan De Jesus, Jr., you don’t call someone like Gordon up to ride the bench. Cynics might wonder if Gordon is being showcased for a trade, but I’ve never gotten the sense he’s someone the Dodgers want to part with.

To make room for Gordon and Marcus Thames, who was activated from the disabled list, the Dodgers designated Juan Castro and Jay Gibbons for assignment. This is also something of a surprise, given the Dodgers’ proclivity to protect depth — and by 2011 Dodger standards, the .668 OPS for Gibbons and .619 OPS for Castro aren’t the worst you could imagine. Sands could easily have been sent to the minors. But clearly, general manager Ned Colletti buys into the reality that they’re not going to miss much by losing Castro and Gibbons. (There’s also the not-slim possibility that the pair could end up back in Albuquerque if they clear waivers.)

Perhaps the way the young Dodger bullpen replacements have risen to the occasion has influenced Colletti.

Finally, the Dodgers optioned John Ely and De Jesus to make room for the return of Blake Hawksworth and Juan Uribe from the DL.

On the current 25-man active roster, 15 are below the age of 30.

* * *

Three years ago, I transcribed a Vin Scully excerpt on the anniversary of D-Day. This rubbed some people the wrong way, and a long discussion ensued in the comments of that thread. Just want to link to it to say I hadn’t forgotten what Scully said, nor the response that followed. It was a learning experience for me.

Jun 06

Draft day dope

The MLB draft begins today at 4 p.m. Three things we can be confident of with the Dodgers, who will have the 16th pick in the first round:

1) However unlikely it was that the Dodgers would spend more than $5 million to sign last year’s No. 1 pick, Zach Lee – and sure enough, they did it – multiply that by a factor of oodles this year.

2) However apparent the Dodgers’ needs are on the position player side, they’ll choose the best player available, which could very likely be a pitcher.

3) However much we make of the first pick, lower-round guys can definitely make a difference. It’s a wait-and-see proposition all around.

A sampling of Dodger draft picks of the past 10 years, with the round they were drafted in (via Baseball-Reference.com):

1 – James Loney (2002)
1 – Chad Billingsley (2003)
1 – Scott Elbert (2004)
1 – Blake DeWitt (2004)
1 – Luke Hochevar (2005)
1 – Clayton Kershaw (2006)
1 – Zach Lee (2010)

2 – Jonathan Broxton (2002)
2 – Ivan De Jesus, Jr. (2005)
2 – Josh Lindblom (2008)
2 – Garrett Gould (2009)

4 – Delwyn Young (2002)
4 – Xavier Paul (2003)
4 – Javy Guerra (2004)
4 – Josh Bell (2005)
4 – Dee Gordon (2008)

5 – Jon Meloan (2005)

6 – Edwin Jackson (2001)
6 – Matt Kemp (2003)
6 – Brent Leach (2005)

10 – Cory Wade (2004)
10 – Trayvon Robinson (2005)

11 – James McDonald (2002)
11 – Nathan Eovaldi (2008)

15 – Eric Stults (2002)
15 – Russ Mitchell (2003)

17 – Russell Martin (2002)

18 – A.J. Ellis (2003)
18 – Allen Webster (2008)

19 – David Price (2004)

24 – Andy LaRoche (2003)

25 – Jerry Sands (2008)

30 – Shawn Tolleson (2010)